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It is estimated that more than 200 different beers are brewed in Denver every single day, giving The Mile High City its claim as the “Napa Valley of Beer.” With so many choices, where do you take your first sip? Here's a walking tour that takes you from LoDo (lower downtown) to LoHi (lower Highlands), visiting several beer hotspots along the way. If you want a guided walking tour, check out the Denver Microbrew Tour. It's a 1.5-mile tour in LoDo that includes 10 samples at four of downtown's best breweries and tap rooms.
Colorado's first brewpub opened in 1988 and was founded by a group of young urban pioneers that included John Hickenlooper, who went on to serve as mayor of Denver for seven years and later as a two-term governor of Colorado (the first former brewer to be elected as a state governor since Sam Adams in 1794). Today, the Wynkoop Brewing Company is the center of LoDo - Denver's hip historic district where century-old warehouses have been turned into more than 90 bars, brewpubs, restaurants and cafes.
The Wynkoop's architecture is typical of the neighborhood with hardwood floors, exposed brick walls covered with artwork and big open windows. The second floor of the huge pub has 22 pool tables, while there is a popular comedy club in the basement. There are always more than a dozen craft beers on tap. The flagship beer (available in cans) is Railyard Ale, a smooth amber with the malty flavor of an Oktoberfest lager. For a true Colorado experience, try Patty's Chile Beer, a German-style lager made with chiles and smoked Ancho peppers.
DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP: Walk west on Wynkoop two blocks to the 16th Street Mall, then turn left and walk seven blocks to Curtis.
Today, Rock Bottom Brewery is a major chain with 37 breweries that produce 700 different craft beers that have won 125 medals. But their brewery in Denver is the "mother ship," the first brewery of the chain when it opened in 1990. Rock Bottom has one of the best locations on the 16th Street Mall, Denver's mile-long pedestrian promenade. There are 41 outdoor patios along the Mall, but the one at Rock Bottom is the largest and one of the most popular. On summer weekends, bands play and hundreds of people gather to sip a craft beer on the patio under twinkling lights, as horse-drawn carriages clatter by. The interior of the massive bar is built around towering glass windows displaying the brewing equipment. It can be noisy, crowded and fun as the bar brings in an attractive crowd of young downtown office workers. For a quieter experience, head to the back bar, which has pool tables and a staff that is knowledgeable about craft beer. Rock Bottom features the standard IPAs, Red Ale, White Ale, Dark Ale and a Winter Tartan Ale, as well as the always popular local beer, Molly's Titanic Brown Ale. The brewmaster at each pub creates specials, so check what's on the current beer list, and especially look for the hand-pulled cask-conditioned ales in the back room.
DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP: Catch the free Mall bus at the corner of 16th and Curtis and take it north to the final stop at the Light Rail station. Walk back to 16th Street and over the Millennium Bridge (easily identifiable by the tall white mast). Continue straight through the Riverfront development and across Commons Park to a second pedestrian bridge over the South Platte River. On the other side of the bridge, walk one block to Platte Street and turn right. Denver Beer Company is on far side of the street.
Although relatively new, the Denver Beer Company is already becoming one of the city's favorite tap rooms -- a place that really captures the laid back feeling of the Mile High City. Located in a former auto garage, on warm days the "walls" of the pub literally roll up, making the whole building open air. There's an outdoor patio with picnic tables next to a space where different food trucks park every day.
The Denver Beer Company serves only delicious homemade pretzels and beer, but you're welcome to bring your own food or purchase food at the rotating food trucks. Dogs are welcome too, and it's a rare day when there aren't at least a half dozen pups at the bar or on the patio. Owners Charlie and Patrick began as home brewers and are dedicated to making the finest and most inventive beers in the city. There are usually a dozen small-batch beers on tap that rotate regularly. Check the chalkboard to see what's available. If Graham Cracker Porter is on tap, make that your choice. It's been described as "a campfire in a glass with notes of vanilla, smoked cedar and mulling spices." This is a neighborhood bar where people stop in after a bike ride or a run. Even Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is a fan. He helped Patrick and Charlie make a pumpkin ale here to kick off Denver Beer Fest in 2012.
DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP: Turn right from the pub and in a half block, head west over a third pedestrian bridge, which crosses I-25. Immediately on the other side of the bridge is the next stop.
After crossing the bridge, you've entered LoHi, one of Denver's newest and fastest-growing neighborhoods. Ale House at Amato's is a great introduction to this hip section of town. While no beer is brewed here, the restaurant is owned jointly by Wynkoop and Breckenridge breweries and features 42 craft beers on tap, including several rare and hard to find Colorado microbrews. The staff is beer savvy and will work with you to find the perfect selection, whether it's light, hoppy, malty or complex (and your beer, of course, will be poured into the appropriate style glass). The entire roof of the bar is an open-air beer garden with outdoor fireplaces and sweeping views of downtown Denver. It's especially pretty at twilight when the sun sets over the visible Rocky Mountains to the west.
Want a break from beer? There are 30 wines to choose from, including Monkeyshine red and white, available here on tap, exclusively from the local Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery. Or take a different break and walk two blocks uphill on 16th until you see a 30-foot high milk can. This is the legendary Little Man, where they produce hand-made, small-batch ice cream, created with some of the finest local ingredients. Relax with a triple scoop in their outdoor ice cream garden. For those poor souls who have trouble with milk? They sell a Lactaid pill for 50 cents!
DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP: Exiting Amato's, turn left and walk four blocks northeast along Central Street.
As you would suspect, with a name like Prost, this new brewery specializes in traditional German beers... and they do everything traditionally, from serving the beer in appropriate German beer glasses to making it in authentic 72.5 barrel copper kettles from Germany. The kettles were made in 1963 and used until two years ago by a 350-year old brewery in Germany. When that brewery went out of business, the kettles were purchased and lovingly shipped to Denver, where they continue to make Weißbier - a Bavarian Hefeweizen, Altfränkisches Dunkel Bier - a dark amber lager, and Marzen - an Oktoberfest brew. The flagship beer is Prost Pils, a crisp, pale and well-hopped, gold-colored brew capped with a dense white collar of foam. It's served in a tapered glass with a gold rim that will have you crying, "Prost!" The Prost beer hall is decorated with authentic antique German beer signs and blue and white check Oktoberfest bunting and is filled with long communal tables. Have a liter of beer, bite into an authentic German pretzel, and meet new friends as this LoHi neighborhood taproom.
DIRECTIONS: Return to the Light Rail station the same way you came. From here, you can catch the free shuttle to anywhere on the 16th Street Mall.